Sanal Edamaruku is the brave rationalist shining a scientific light on superstition and ignorance in India — and he might just go to gaol for it, reports John Turnbull.
“I can understand that they might be inspired by the stories of Inquisition and Witch Hunting in the middle ages. We live in 21st century. There are courageous people who would defend the right to speak what they are convinced about, even if stakes are invoked against them. I am one amongst them. I would not apologize nor succumb to any pressures.”
~ Sanal Edamaruku
YOU'VE probably never heard of Sanal Edamaruku, but he is a hero. In a country beset by superstition and ignorance, he dares to shine a light on those who would seek to take advantage of the poor and the gullible.
Naturally, the Catholic Church is trying to have him locked up for it.
Sanal is the founder of Rationalist International and President of the Indian Rationalist Association, a non-profit group dedicated to science and critical thinking. He first rose to prominence with the Great Tantra Challenge, wherein he challenged a prominent tantrick named Surinder Sharma to cast a death spell on him on national television. Sharma rose to the challenge and proceeded to chant mantras at Sanal for almost two hours. Needless to say, Sanal did not die.
The follow up broadcast was watched by over two hundred million people. During this ‘Special News Event’ Sharma and a couple of assistants upped the ante, waving knives about and throwing potions into a ceremonial bonfire. When Sanal once again refused to die before the agreed midnight deadline, rationality was declared the winner.
Skip forward four years; a church in Mumbai announces that a crucifix had started to drip water from Jesus feet, and called it a miracle.
Sanal was sceptical, to say the least. He set out to investigate, and it didn’t take him long to discover that the liquid was coming from a nearby washroom drainage pipe, via a wonderful scientific effect called the capillary action.
The trouble really started when Sanal accused the church of ‘Miracle Mongering’ — using what they knew to be bogus miracles to drum up support and donations. Senior church officials immediately demanded that Sanal be charged with blasphemy, which is actually still a crime in India (as well as some other enlightened countries around the world).
The official charge proposed is hurting the ‘Religious Sentiments’ of the Catholic Church, and police officials in Mumbai have expressed strong interest in ‘talking to’ Sanal — if they can find him (read into that what you will).
Sensibly, Sanal has taken this opportunity to do some travelling. He recently spent some time in Poland, where he took part in a public debate about freedom of expression. Wikipedia suggests that he might be in Finland, which means that he’s probably anywhere but Finland.